Africa pushes back against China’s ‘new colonialism’


For a global China, the benefits of increased economic engagement in Africa and becoming the continent’s preferred development partner comes with the burden of ensuring projects’ viability and sustainability. But Africa’s vibrant democratic cultures may sometimes feature not-so-friendly political rhetoric, says Richard Aidoo, associate professor of politics at Coastal Carolina University.

With China as a popular development partner for many African countries, and provider of infrastructure and financial resources, there are four reasons why anti-China rhetoric nevertheless has some appeal, he writes for The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog:

  • African elections are essentially about the economy, and China is a significant economic player. Beijing has edged out Western economies to become the most crucial economic partner to many African countries — which have diverse needs and resources. With South Africa’s unemployment rate expected to reach more than 26 percent in 2018, even the continent’s top performers and Beijing’s major partners need to increase trade and investments, and build resilient economies that provide and protect jobs. The stakes are high, as over one-third of African workers fall below the poverty line of $1.90 a day.
  • African economies are largely extractive, and China is heavily engaged in this sector. According to the China Africa Research Initiative, the top three Chinese imports from Africa in 2015 were oil, copper and other ores. China’s oil purchases come from Angola, Congo and South Sudan, for instance. Zambia’s exports to China largely consist of copper, and its neighbor Zimbabwe sends nickel and other precious stones to China….
  • China has flooded African markets with poor-quality products. A 2016 Afrobarometer* survey of 35 African countries indicated an average of 35 percent of respondents perceived the quality of Chinese products in Africa as problematic for China’s image. .. African consumers with meager incomes, consumers don’t want to see substandard materials in infrastructure building, or risk purchasing fake pharmaceutical products….
  • The ghost of colonialism hangs over China-Africa relations. To some Western politicians, China’s increased engagement in Africa is nothing more than “new colonialism,” and growing indebtedness to Beijing should be a bigger concern. Deborah Brautigam, who directs the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, argues against the notion that Africans are powerlessly dependent on arrangements skewed in China’s favor….


*A partner of the National Endowment for Democracy

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